Review: “Swan Lake In Blue: A Jazz Ballet” At Greater Boston Stage Company

Swan Lake Swings

At The Greater Boston Stage Company

Swan Lake In Blue: A Jazz Ballet

Greater Boston Stage Company 

Stoneham, MA

Through March 1

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey

In 1960 Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn recomposed selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker for jazz big band. After discovering this work, composer Steve Bass was inspired to recompose his own jazz ballet and chose Tchaikovsky’s other masterpiece Swan Lake. The result is Swan Lake: A Jazz Ballet now playing at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham.

The music is original with three themes taken from Swan Lake. The story has been moved to 1940’s New York where producer Florenz Siegfried (Andy McLeavey) is auditioning dancers for a musical. Odette (Sara Coombs), the swan here portrayed as a burlesque dancer, walks into the auditions and Siegfried is immediately taken with her. However, she quickly retreats to the Swan Club where she works for the possessive Von Rothbart, a shady gangster.

The adaptation works wonderfully. The score is solid and if you have ever caught yourself saying “Why don’t they write music like that anymore?”, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will hear in this work. 

Andy McLeavey

The stage is set with a full big band/jazz orchestra directed by Steve Bass that transports the audience back to that golden musical age. The overture sets things in motion and the stage is then energized with non stop dancing. Ilyse Robbins has choreographed stunning and powerful numbers. With 21 pieces of choreography this had to be a daunting task, but Ms Robbins has scored a knockout. There isn’t a dull spot in the entire production.

Being a ballet there is no dialog, at least no spoken dialog, but the expressive dance speaks clearly and the story is told beautifully. Bringing Swan Lake into the 20th Century works and works very well. The stage full of talented dancers never leave the audience wondering what is happening. Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey as the leads Odette and Siegfried are a joy to watch. Briana Fallon and Gillian Mariner Gordon as Little Swans join Ms Coombs for a burlesque number that uses swan feather fans to create a Sally Rand type piece that is sultry and sexy. 

David Visini is dark and menacing as Von Rothbart. He is downright scary and his presence further conveys the ability for words and mood to be expressed through dance. 

H.C. Lee, Jackson Jirard, Michael Skrzek, and Mike Herring

Jackson Jirard, Mike Herring, H.C. Lee, Erica Lundin, and Michael Skrzek make up the ensemble, giving a master class in tap. All are superb with Mr. Jirard adding an exclamation mark to the numbers they do together. If you can sit still during these performances you would have to be heavily sedated. 

There is also a teen ensemble that is made up of Lily Lawrence, Claire Lawrence, and Maya McClain. These young people are real pros and all have great futures in theatre. Maya McClain moved like a veteran professional in her numbers with Jackson Jirard. It’s nice to know there will be no dearth of talent in the years to come.

Costume Designer Kevin Hutchins does a beautiful job with the outfits the cast wears. The flavor of backstage musical theatre of the 1940s is captured in the clothing that is reminiscent of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. The soft hat worn by Von Rothbart is put to great use in expressing his gangster persona, while the dance numbers in the Swan Club capture the Age of Burlesque. Combined with the lighting designed by Chris Fournier, the atmospherics are sublime.

Maya McClain, Jackson Jirard, Erica Lundin and Cast

Steve Bass and Ilyse Robbins have created an original work that is being seen for the first time on the stage in Stoneham, but I believe this is something that will move on to other venues. This is no commodity musical. It is a marvelous piece that is destined to become part of musical theatre history. From top to bottom this is a first rate production, and you don’t want to miss it. Someday you’ll get to say you saw it when it premiered. You’ll also be saying “They really do write music and choreograph dancing the way they used to”.

What: Swan Lake In Blue: A Jazz Ballet

Where: The Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, MA

When: Through March 1

Tickets: Phone: 781.279.2200, Box Office: 395 Main Street, Stoneham

Website: Review